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Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays continue the fight against homophobia, transphobia online and in schools

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By the time Amy O’Reilly was five years old, her parents suspected she was gay.

So when the 19-year-old came out to her parents two years ago, it wasn’t much of a surprise to them.

“I’ve been called a dyke before and sometimes on the subway people will make little comments,” said O’Reilly shortly before the start of the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia event on Friday next to the Podium Green Roof Flag Pole at Toronto City Hall. 

“But I haven’t had that many issues.”

Sadly, that’s not the case for many young people.

“I have friends who have families who aren’t accepting of who they are so they can’t tell them,” said O’Reilly.

“It’s not considered the norm. Some people still aren’t used to it. There’s still that level of discomfort where a gay or lesbian couple may not want to hold hands walking down the street just because they don’t want to get comments thrown at them. It’s not a comfortable feeling or position to be in.”

The International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia was conceived in 2004 to commemorate the World Health Organization’s (WHO) decision to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 1990.

After Mayor Ford read out the proclamation on Friday against homophobia and transphobia, several speakers stepped up to the podium to share their thoughts.

“Today is about making bullying go away by modeling that it just has no place in this society,” said Shelley Carroll, City Councillor, Don Valley East.

With the goal of eventually eliminating the discrimination and violence against the LGBTTIQQ2SA community. 

In 2008, the Vancouver Sun reported that a Statistics Canada study revealed that “the number of hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation more than doubled in 2008 compared to the previous year and were more likely to involve violence than racially and religiously motivated attacks.

“In fact, three-quarters of all hate crimes against homosexuals involved violence, compared with 38 per cent of racially motivated crimes and a quarter of religiously motivated crimes.”

In the same story, Egale Canada’s executive director Helen Kennedy said an estimated 75 per cent of cases still go unreported.

“A lot of trans people come to me and say that they’ve been discriminated by their employers,” said Enza Anderson, a Toronto PLFLAG volunteer.

“They’ve had issues with housing or been harassed on the street.”

Parents, families and friends of lesbians and gays (PFLAG) Canada, with local chapters across the country, is Canada's only national organization that helps all Canadians who are struggling with issues of sexual orientation and gender identity. 

PFLAG Canada supports, educates and provides resources to parents, families, friends and colleagues with questions or concerns.

“A couple of weeks ago, when I was coming into Pearson, I received a very unwelcoming welcome from one of the greeters at Pearson airport because of my gender,” said Anderson.

“So it’s crucial that we continue to fight for trans rights and human rights to ensure equality around the world, in our workplaces and where we live.”

And when we play too.

“The $25 billion video game industry is also one of concern,” said Mary Fragedakis, City Councillor, Toronto-Danforth.

“Youth are susceptible to these homophobic and transphobic messages.”

On Wednesday, Pink News reported that “the Japanese 3DS console version of Tomodachi Collection: NewLife was being hailed as a breakthrough in LGBT visibility in video games for allowing male Mii characters in the game to marry each other and have children. 

“However, Nintendo has since issued a press release announcing that the ability to pair male characters — female couplings were not allowed — was an accidental bug and the company would soon issue a patch to “fix” the problem.”

An accidental bug? Fix the problem?

“So I’m so glad that we have groups like PFLAG who know what really needs to be fixed,” said Fragedakis.

“We need to shine a light on transphobia and homophobia in social media, on the internet and wherever it scurries spreading hate and fear.”

Despite the setbacks, this past year has seen a number of success stories for the trans community, including the University of Regina that brought in the first gender-neutral washrooms.

The University opened 10 gender-neutral washrooms on campus, turning formerly wheelchair accessible single-stall washrooms into facilities for any gender.

So things are improving. Albeit not as fast as most would like.

“Growing up I couldn’t have imagined a day like today,” said TK, Pride Toronto Arts & Culture Program Manager.

“I couldn’t have imagined so much love and support in a public square, at City Hall no less. Or GSA’s (Gay-Straight alliances) or PFLAG.”

Or 1.2 million people lining the streets of downtown Toronto to watch the Pride parade.

So why do we still need a day against homophobia and transphobia or why do we still need Pride? asked TK.

“We’ve got same-sex marriage, human rights for queer folks and with the passing of Bill C-276 we trans folks almost have our human rights - almost,” said TK.

“(But) institutional and social homophobia and transphobia still deny millions of folks (around the world) their dignity every single day.”

Only a few days ago, TK was the victim of a verbal bashing. “Just a homophobic slur launched out of a car,” said TK.

The 2011 Trans Pulse survey reported that 43 per cent of trans Ontarians have attempted suicide.

“Clearly our work is far from finished. We need days like today to confront our oppressions, reflect on our privileges and to create new ways to take action.”

Like marching and dancing in the streets of Toronto on June 30. Or being more visible and outspoken.

“We must confront homophobic and transphobic language in our everyday lives and online,” said TK. “Change is possible. I know this because growing up I couldn’t have imagined any of this.”

One way of dealing with the problem is by going into schools and talking with students about bullying and homophobia.

“It’s very easy to forget how your ideals and values get shaped by the people around you,” said Shane Hebel, a Toronto PFLAG volunteer and team speaker in schools.

Youth between the ages of 12 and 24 are the most likely to either commit a hate crime or become the victim of one and educational facilities are the most common place of occurrence for such crimes, according to Egale.

Making victims feel alone, separate and apart from the rest of society for a significant part of their early life.

“And this is what we want to rectify and assure you today (that) you never need feel alone again,” said Irene Miller, Toronto PFLAG president and Toronto PFLAG mum.

With youth self-identifying at a younger age than ever before, PFLAG has started talking to students as early as Grade 2.

“And we need to,” said Miller. “They know the meaning of the words, how to use them. They know they can hurt.”

Children as young as five are already using homophobic slurs. 

“Homophobic bullying kills our youth,” she said.

“It destroys the psyche and the balance of our adults and it can make its way into any conversation at any place at any time.”

Suicide is the number one cause of death for sexual minority youth in North America.

“You need to be careful of what you say all the time,” said Miller, “because there’s a mum, a dad, a brother, a sister or a friend in the vicinity who is also hurt by your ignorance and your homophobia and your bigotry.”

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